Category Archives: Strategic Outlook

Predictions and forecasting.

Call for Articles: The Future of Undersea Competition Topic Week

By Sally DeBoer

Week Dates: May 30 – June 3, 2016
Articles Due: May 29, 2016
Article Length: 800-1800 Words (with flexibility)
Submit to: Nextwar@cimsec.org

During the last week of May/first week of June (30 May – 3 Jun) CIMSEC will launch a topic week focusing on the future of undersea competition.

For the last several decades, the United States has enjoyed relatively unchallenged supremacy in the undersea domain. Is it reasonable to expect this trend to continue into the middle of this century? As numerous near-peer competitors, notably Russia and China,  continue to invest heavily in their undersea forces, it seems likely that this dominance will be challenged. Even nations with smaller armed forces are embracing submersibles. With an eye to the ever-increasing tensions in the South China Sea, Thailand stated its intentions to acquire two to three submarines as part of its 2016 defense budget. Vietnam purchased six Russian-built Kilo submarines in 2009, while India, which already had an established submarine force, retains a decade-long lease on an Akula I, also from the Russian Federation.  Indeed, London-based Straetgic Defense Intelligence (DSI) reported that Asia leads the world in in defense spending, with submarine spending near the top of that list; the current Asian submarine market is worth just over 7 billion dollars, but is projected to rise to nearly 11 billion dollars by 2025. How will the United States cope with this competition, which is not limited to Asia alone?

In addition to sheer numbers, the technology of undersea warfare has also accelerated at a rapid pace. The introduction of commercial off the shelf technologies has revolutionized ASW sensors, making them more available (given adequate processing power) and more effective. As CIMSEC has addressed in previous topic weeks, unmanned undersea systems (UUVs and AUVSs) stand to revolutionize undersea warfare and the exploitation of the underwater domain as it is currently understood. On February 18th of this year, The US Navy delivered to Congress a comprehensive report on the future of its Autonomous Undersea Vehicle program through 2025. Hardly alone in their unmanned ambitions, the US will face competition from Russia, who is developing an unmanned system dubbed ‘Kanyon,’ intended to provide submarine (reportedly nuclear) strike capabilities. From mine-sweeping, to strike, to ocean surveillance and beyond, unmanned undersea systems will only add to an increasingly crowded, capable, and competitive undersea environment. How will the United States deal with these challenges, and how will the undersea environment and undersea competition shape tomorrow’s conflicts?

Sally DeBoer is the Publication and Book Review Coordinator for CIMSEC.  She can be reached at books@cimsec.org.

Featured image shows the USS Providence in Manama, Bahrain. It is provided courtesy of the photographer.

Terrorists on the Ocean: Sea Monsters in the 21st Century

By CAPT Robert N. Hein, USN

The call of the ocean has enticed generations to explore, and at times exploit her domain. Ninety percent of world commerce transits the oceans. Cruise ships represent a $40 Billion industry, and 30% of the world’s oil originates offshore. It is no wonder criminals and terrorists also feel drawn to the sea. As these groups expand their reach, the question is: When will ISIS and other terrorist organizations bring their brand of mayhem to the oceans?

A senior NATO Admiral, VADM Clive Johnstone, recently expressed concern that ISIS desired its own maritime force to spread its nefarious activities into the Mediterranean. These activities could include launching attacks against a cruise liner, oil terminal, or container ship. Soon after VADM Johnstone’s comments, Former Supreme Allied Commander and retired Admiral James Stavridis weighed in with his own concerns about ISIS entering the maritime domain: “I’m surprised [Islamic State militants] have not, as yet, moved into the maritime world and gone after cruise ships, which I think are a logical and lucrative target for them.”

While ISIS’ maritime capabilities have been limited to date, this has not been true of all terrorist organizations. ISIS’ predecessor, Al Qaeda, launched a vicious and successful attack against the USS COLE in October 2000. Somali pirates experienced tremendous success at sea for years, but strong responses from the international community and force protection measures by the maritime industry have limited further successful attacks. ISIS’ limited attempts at sea have achieved some effects though, such as the shore-launched rocket attack on an Egyptian naval ship in August. Additionally, there was a recent attempt by ISIS to conduct an attack from the sea against a Libyan oil terminal, but it was thwarted by Libyan security forces.

Footage of ISIS affiliated insurgent group launching missile at Egyptian Timsah class patrol boat in July 2015. 

How Real is the Threat?

The lure of expanding operations into the maritime domain is enticing to terrorist groups. The relative isolation is real, and external response is limited. Terrorist attacks on land receive a rapid government response, in large numbers, and with many assets to thwart an attack. Case in point is the Al Qaeda attack at a luxury hotel in Burkina Faso in January 2016. Three members of an Al Qaeda group took 126 hostages and killed two dozen more before security forces stormed the hotel, killing the terrorists and freeing the hostages. A logical extension of the attacks in Burkina Faso would be an assault on a large and remote or underdefended luxury hotel- such as an underway cruise ship. The narrative ISIS hopes to convey from attacking a cruise ship at sea is akin to many horror movies: a captive victim with nowhere to turn for help.

Following VADM Johnson’s prediction, the Cruise Line International Association quickly stepped in to reassure its passengers that cruises are still safe, but are they? The last successful terrorist attack against a cruise ship was 30 years ago by Palestinians. Their original intent was to use the Achille Lauro as transport to Ashdod, Israel, to launch a terror attack ashore. This plan rapidly changed when a crew member discovered the terrorists/attackers cleaning their weapons.

Egyptian central security police guarding the gangplank on which diplomats and others go to and from the Italian cruise liner ?Achille Lauro? which arrived, Thursday, Oct. 10, 1985 in Port Said in this port after being hijacked by four Palestinian for more than 48-hours. The four hijackers has left Egypt after they surrendered go to the Egyptian authorities on Wednesday. (AP Photo)
Egyptian central security police guarding the gangplank on which diplomats and others go to and from the Italian cruise liner Achille Lauro which arrived, Thursday, Oct. 10, 1985 in Port Said after being hijacked by four Palestinian for more than 48-hours. (AP Photo)

While the Achille Lauro incident increased levels of security in the cruise ship world, threats to the cruise industry remain. In March 2015, cruise ship tourists visiting a museum during a stop in Tunis were attacked. Cruise lines are quick to cancel port visits in global hot spots, and most employ internal security forces. However, the allure for terrorists remains. Al Qaeda made plans as early as 2011 to capture a cruise ship and execute its passengers. Fortunately, those plans have failed to come to fruition as terrorist groups have found the task is harder than it looks.

While attacks on the open ocean remain a challenge, coastal attacks are more feasible. The Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba launched an attack in 2008 against Mumbai. They hijacked an Indian fishing boat and launched 10 terrorists ashore, ultimately killing 166 and injuring almost 500. The lack of a strong Coast Guard in both India and Pakistan certainly contributed to the terrorists’ success, and served as a wakeup call. In response to the Mumbai attacks, the Indian Navy was placed at the apex of India’s maritime security architecture and made responsible for both coastal and oceanic security. Since then, the Indian Navy has successfully prevented further attacks. However, even with the additional forces, indications persist that ISIS may be trying to infiltrate India by sea, disguised as fishermen.

Arguably, the most successful terrorist group on the sea was the Sri Lankan separatist group, the Tamil Tigers. In his treatise A Guerrilla Wat At Sea: The Sri Lankan Civil War , Professor Paul Povlock of the Naval War College describes how at their strongest, their maritime branch (the Sea Tigers) boasted a force of 3000 personnel with separate branches for logistics, intelligence, communications, offensive mining, and — every terrorists’ favorite — the suicide squad. They conducted sea denial with great success, even demonstrating the ability to sink Sri Lankan patrol boats using fast attack craft and suicide boats.

Small vessels employed by the Sea Tigers.
Small vessels employed by the Sea Tigers.

The Tigers continued their attacks against Sri Lanka for 20 years until the Sri Lankan Navy was able to effectively neutralize them. The Sri Lankan Navy now has a formidable maritime patrol, but not before they lost over 1000 men to the Sea Tigers. Hardly a day goes by without illegal fishermen being chased away or arrested by the Sri Lankan government, who is ever mindful that their waters could again be used for more nefarious purposes.

Sometimes terrorists’ appetites are far bigger than their stomachs, as was the case in September 2014 when Al Qaeda operatives attempted to hijack a Pakistani frigate. If successful, it would have had epic implications. However, the attempted takeover was thwarted by a sharp Pakistani gunner who noticed the inbound boat did not have standard issue gear. He engaged, destroying the terrorist boat, while commandos onboard the frigate subdued crew members sympathetic to the terrorist cause.

Defeat and Deter

Operating in the maritime domain is far more challenging than operations on land. The Somali pirates were originally fishermen and familiar with operating at sea, but it still took them years to develop an offshore “over the horizon” capability. The lack of successful attacks at sea by terrorist organizations in spite of their indicated desire is at least a partial validation of the efforts made by the maritime security community.

The effective shutdown of piracy off Somalia served as a model for defeating maritime crime, showing coastal nations the effects of naval presence in deterring illegal behavior at sea. Malaysia has all but shut down sea crime in its waters, and blunted terrorist attempts to enter Malaysia by aggressively patrolling their coasts. Nigeria has similarly stepped up its game in the Gulf of Guinea where their navy stopped two hijackings in one week and separately announced they would soon take delivery of an additional 50 boats- both demonstrations of commitment to peaceful use of their waters. That doesn’t mean the work is over. ISIS, who has the funds for major purchases, is attempting to acquire naval capabilities like 2 man submarines, high powered speed boats, boats fitted with machine guns and rocket launchers, and mine planners made easily available by less discerning arms providers such as Korea, China, and Russia.

While the likelihood of near-shore attacks remains a possibility, including against cruise ships, the chance that ISIS will attack blue water objectives out of sight of land is still remote. However, the odds will remain remote only as long as the navies of the world continue to provide a credible presence on the oceans. When the seas are no longer effectively patrolled, terrorist organizations will take advantage of the same opportunities for freedom of maneuver at sea that they currently enjoy ashore.

Captain Robert N. Hein is a career Surface Warfare Officer. He previously commanded the USS Gettysburg (CG-64) and the USS Nitze (DDG-94). You can follow him on Twitter: @the_sailor_dog. The views and opinions expressed are his own and do not reflect those of the Navy or the Department of Defense.

Featured Image: The U.S.S. Cole in 2000 after suffering an Al Qaeda attack in the port of Aden. 17 American sailors were killed, and 39 were injured.

CIMSEC Interviews Larry Bond and Chris Carlson On Their New Novel, Wargaming, and More

By Bret Perry

If you’re in the Navy or elsewhere in the defense space, Larry Bond most likely influenced your pursuits.

Whether you’ve poured over one of his explosive techno-thrillers co-authored with Chris Carlson or spent hours trying to break the GUIK gap in their classic Harpoon war game, Bond and Carlson have most likely fed your intellectual interest in defense issues while keeping you entertained.

Larry Bond and Chris Carlson joined me to discuss a wide range of topics, including their recently published Red Phoenix Burning (reviewed by CIMSEC here), the growth of the techno-thriller, war gaming, distributed lethality, and their favorite books.

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BP: You wrote Red Phoenix, your second book after co-writing Red Storm Rising with Tom Clancy, nearly 25 years ago. What drew you back to the same fictional universe and Korean conflict with Red Phoenix Burning?

In the 1980s, the threat was all about the DPRK, with one of the largest armies in the world, invading the south. They’d done it once, and would certainly do it again if they thought they could get away with it. But since then, the North has suffered terribly under the Kims. It may be that any closed society, so utterly corrupt, will eventually weaken and fail, and that’s a much more likely scenario these days. Red Phoenix Burning isn’t about an invasion of the south, but a collapse of the north, creating a humanitarian crisis as frightening as a military one.

In Red Phoenix, besides some of the special forces raids, much of the air and ground combat seemed conventional? How is Red Phoenix Burning different? What drove these decisions?

The battle scenes in Red Phoenix were keyed to what most people call a “conventional” war: WW II with better weapons. There are actually very few pitched battle scenes in Red Phoenix Burning; much of the fighting happens off-page. It’s the consequences of those battles, especially the fighting in Pyongyang, that forces the characters to act.

You’ve written/co-written quite a few techno-thrillers featuring large conventional conflicts in Central Europe, Eastern Europe, South Africa, the Korean Peninsula, and more. What drove you to write about the Korean Peninsula, especially after you have already done so once?

My co-author Chris Carlson has discussed this scenario with South Korean intelligence officials, and it’s one of their biggest concerns. We liked the characters in Red Phoenix, but really never planned a sequel back then, because who would want to read about a third invasion? But what about something as unexpected as a coup that leads to a North Korean civil war?

Your readers often praise you for the extensive research that goes into your books. As you’ve already written about a Korean conflict 25 years ago with Red Phoenix, in terms of the tactical and strategic security threats, what are some of the most significant changes you have observed?

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Larry Bond’s highly praised 1989 release, Red Phoenix.

The more we learn about North Korea and the regime that rules the country, the more it sounds like an organized crime family, and less like a government. In Red Phoenix we depicted the regime as a Stalinist dictatorship, but still a recognizable government. Revelations about institutional counterfeiting and drug manufacturing, as well as arms smuggling and money laundering, show that the regime will go to any length to get foreign exchange, which flows not to the citizens, but to the top leadership. And, of course, the big new strategic threat is North Korea’s nuclear weapons capability. Although it is still nascent, any nuclear capability changes the very nature of a conflict in the region significantly.

What’s been the reaction out of South Korea, and DPRK, to your past work and what do you expect from Red Phoenix Burning?

We’ve never heard from any Koreans about the story, but I’ve personally spoken to a lot of U.S. service members who tell me the book was almost required reading for American military in the theater. They’re polite enough to avoid mentioning whether it’s for comic relief, but they’re reading it.

In Red Phoenix, the North Korean regime did not possess nuclear weapons. However, as Red Phoenix Burning takes place in the modern day with the North Korean regime maintaining a small arsenal of nuclear weapons, how does this impact the conflict in the novel—without giving away too many spoilers.

The North’s possession of nuclear weapons is a complete game changer, as it is in any conflict. The fact that there are so few, of questionable reliability, and with primitive delivery systems, doesn’t change the basic fact that they can cause untold casualties. Indeed, because they have so little military utility, they would probably be used as terror weapons. The North Koreans also have a lot of chemical weapons, which can be almost as horrible, and the regime is irresponsible enough to use them.

You’ve been authoring techno-thrillers for a very long time, Tom Clancy called Larry the “new ace” of the techno-thriller genre. What are your opinions on how the genre has evolved from its origins now that information is widely available and civilian technology outstrips military innovation? Where do you think it will go?

Information is much easier to find now, not just about weapons, but settings, organization, all kinds of useful stuff. This can mean a lot more detail, which is not necessarily a good thing. It can provide more depth, or even a plot angle that you might not have known about before. It’s a given that people reading military thrillers enjoy the action and the hardware, but you have to provide a solid story, with realistic characters, or it’s just bullets whizzing back and forth to no purpose.

We’ve seen a recent trend in which defense analysts and thinkers have explored how fiction can better inform real-world debates on national security issues. What role do you think fiction plays in this discussion? What are its strengths and limits?

Having read a fair number of security papers and monographs, presenting information as a fictional scenario can engage the reader’s interest and improve comprehension, as well as getting your idea to a wider audience. The use of fiction to present a military-related argument goes way back. While General Sir John Hackett’s the Third World War (1979) was a recent example, there were books written in the 1920s (Bywater’s The Great Pacific War, 1929) and well before World War I (The Battle of Dorking, Chesney, 1871) that described a major conflict between nations. All these authors had things to say about the military, and used fiction as a way to share their thoughts. When an author puts together a plot, he/she pretty much knows what happens and when. Since we have a pre-established ending in mind, some of our assumptions and plot twists seem brilliant to some readers, but contrived to others. But it is the discussion on these points that has the potential of producing the greatest fruit, as it forces the investigation of alternative possibilities.

Following off of the previous question, it was recently revealed that Ronald Reagan advised Margaret Thatcher to read Red Storm Rising, which you coauthored with Tom Clancy. When you first learned of this, what was your reaction?

I hadn’t heard about that before. I hope it’s true. The most interesting story I heard about the influence of RSR was that the Icelandic government renegotiated its treaty with NATO. The old one was cumbersome, with even the smallest change to NATO’s forces (e.g., reinforcements) requiring approval by the Foreign Minster. Also, the Naval War College asked for my write ups of the wargames we played to research Dance of the Vampires, a chapter in the book.

One characteristic that separates your work from others is how you account for a wide range of factors, not just limited to military ones, but also political and economic aspects. Can you describe how you go about accounting for all of these factors and storyboarding?

We both feel that factors like politics and economics are what drive and provide the goals to military actions. While you can write very good fiction about the guy in the foxhole, we want to show the higher-level decisions (and mistakes) that give readers the big picture. As we plot out the book, we stop at each dramatic beat and ask ourselves how each player would react, and indeed, do any new players need to appear.

All of this requires that we read a lot on the countries of interest in a particular novel we’re working on. It’s not uncommon to find us pouring over books, think tank articles, professional journals, or talking to academics about aspects of our plot. The trick is to provide the reader enough background to show how politics, economics, and war are related, but not so much that we get into the weeds with detail—especially as many of these details are hotly debated within government and academic circles.

You have an extensive history of co-writing books. As they entail large, complex geopolitical and military subjects, can you explain how the cooperative process works? Any working tips for creative partnerships?

Co-writing definitely takes more effort than solo writing. I like it because there’s someone to bounce ideas off of, and to go “Auugh” with when you’re behind schedule. We’re systematic, first creating a treatment that the publisher signs off before we get a green light. That gets turned into a chapter-by-chapter “blocking.” Since we’re keeping track of multiple plot threads, often in different parts of the world, it’s mandatory if you don’t want to tangle up in each other’s prose. After the blocking is finished, we can take alternate chapters and start gluing words together. We then review each other’s work, hash out any differences, and move on. And, no, it doesn’t constrain the creative juices between us. We’ve both surprised the other by a slight plot twist that emphasizes a character trait in one of our heroes, or even a villain. Character growth is something we really try to deliver in our writing.

How has your research process changed from Red Phoenix to Red Phoenix Rising?

The Internet is the most obvious change, and is good not only for looking up military details, but grammatical rules. I didn’t sleep through my 7th grade English class, but being able to quickly look up the proper way to use a semicolon, or how to spell “Kyrgyzstan” is a definite help. Equally powerful is Google Earth. Being able to look at satellite imagery of the terrain you’re writing about is a great aid. Especially as hand-held photos of specific objects, buildings, streets, parks, etc, are keyed to the area you’re looking at. It’s very true that a picture is worth a thousand words.

The bottom line is don’t make things up unless you have no other choice. Accurate descriptions resonate with readers, and this helps them to become more involved with the story. Bond’s first law of research is that it’s easier to describe the real world than it is to make something up, and then have to keep it straight in your mind.

As the creators of the Harpoon series, you both have extensive wargaming experience as well. What role does this play in your fictional writing?

A good wargame tries to tell a story, usually about a specific historical event, but it is still a story. After board games and miniatures on a terrain board, something called “role playing” appeared in the 1970s. Most of the players assume fictional identities in some fantasy motif, be it an elf, mage, or whatever, but one player, the referee, tells the others the setting and what they see and hear. The players describe their actions to “the ref” who adjudicates their actions and describes the results. It’s interactive storytelling, with a heavy dose of improvisation thrown in. It’s great practice. Other things that wargaming has provided is a general sense of history and the military’s role, and also the wide range of results that are possible from replays of a single battle.

For the two of us in particular, designing wargames help us understand the basics of how some military piece of equipment works as part of a larger force. We also know where some of the skeletons are buried, like why a system didn’t work as advertised, and we can pull them out of the closet when we need a neat twist in the plot.

There has been a fair amount of recent commentary on some of the challenges with wargaming, and where it should go. What are your opinions on this?

Commercial wargaming is a recreational activity, and fashions come and go in any industry. There’s a constant demand for innovative products, which can create not just new games but entire new genres. Miniatures games go back well before H.G. Wells’ book Little Wars, and board games to Kriegspiel in the 1870s, but in recent times we’ve added role-playing, computer games, collectible card games, and LARPing. Grabbing the players’ interest (and his dollar) will be a constant struggle.

From our own personal experiences, wargaming has a fantastic training and education capability. We’ve watched more “light bulbs” go on when players start to understand and appreciate a particular historical situation. A good game brings history to life and is far more instructive than just reading a dusty textbook about a particular battle. Wargaming, done properly, can be very useful for basic familiarization, looking at alternative courses of action, even analysis. The concept of wargaming is currently on the upswing, but we’ll have to see if this new appreciation is a true change in perception, or just a fad.

Recently, we have seen countries leverage irregular maritime forces and other unconventional methods. From a wargaming perspective, can you describe how you account for these different challenges?

They’re difficult to model in a conventional “force-on-force” game. Usually, one patrol craft plus one narco-boat equals one drug haul. The trick when there’s little random chance in the encounter itself is to model some other part of the process: investigation or detection, for example. The designer has to have a clear picture of the game’s goal. Is it simply to understand the narcotics problem? Or are they evaluating alternative strategies for enforcement?

Due to this maritime security forum and the fact that you both have Navy backgrounds, I have to insert a Navy question here. In terms of future procurements, operating concepts, doctrine, etc., what excites you about the future? Railguns? Lasers? Distributed lethality? Why?

Unfortunately, railguns and lasers are still more science fiction than fact. I equate the first “operational ” laser aboard USS Ponce with the first aircraft flight from a warship by Eugene Ely in 1911. The nature of lasers and railguns will prevent them from replacing other major weapons systems for a long time, if ever. Missiles, as useful as they are, never completely replaced guns. For example, railguns have tremendous speed, but you actually have to hit the thing you’re shooting at. They don’t have proximity fuzes the way gun projectiles do. Minor angular errors in aiming become miss distances that increase with range. Small guns deal with this issue by keeping the range short and using rapid fire, but is that what railguns are supposed to be doing? We don’t think so, given the barrel life issues railguns have to overcome.

Also militarily effective railguns and lasers require huge amounts of power, something that is still under-appreciated in ship design. It’s going to take some time, and a lot of money, to solve both the system and ship-based issues before these new systems are widely deployed.

Distributed lethality is an interesting idea, but most of the articles sound a lot like a Dilbert cartoon with too many buzzwords. The Soviet Navy first implemented a crude capability back in the early-1970s, which has since matured to the third generation “Mineral” system. The Chinese Navy purchased, reversed engineered, and fitted Mineral on many of their surface combatants (Type 054A FFGs, Type 052C and 052D DDGs). Despite the favorable press given the long-range Tomahawk shot, or the recent SM-6 anti-surface mode demonstration, there is still no discussion on how these weapons are to be targeted. There appears to be an unspoken assumption that the information will just be there when needed—not the best of assumptions. The real drivers these days are stealth and electronic warfare. Both relate to finding the enemy, or preventing him from finding you, which is still the most important part of a fight at sea.

Since asking what your all-time favorite books are is too hard of a question, what are some of your current favorite books?    

Larry Bond @ NASA
Author Larry Bond

Larry: I’ve read couple of really good general naval history books lately. The Second Pearl Harbor, by Gene Salecher tells about a little-known fire and explosion aboard navy sips preparing for the invasion of Saipan. Combat Loaded is the story of a single amphibious assault ship, USS Tate, from her commissioning through and after WW II. Both were fun reads. I gave both good reviews in the October issue of ATG’s newsletter, The Naval SITREP.

Carlson Photo 2
Author Chris Carlson

Chris: I’m a huge fan of technical histories, and have just about everything written by Dr. Norman Friedman, although a recent book, Fighting the Great War at Sea: Strategy, Tactics and Technology, is my current favorite—but that will probably change when I start reading his new British battleship book. I also enjoy good general naval histories as well. And although Arthur Marder has come under attack by contemporary revisionist historians, his five-volume set, From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, on naval warfare during WWI is still one of the best histories out there and fortunately, now back in print through the U.S. Naval Institute.

Larry Bond and Chris Carlson are the bestselling authors of the Jerry Mitchell series, Lash-Up, and now Red Phoenix Burning. Larry and Chris are the lead designers of the Admiralty Trilogy wargame system, that includes the long time classic—Harpoon modern naval miniature game. Both Larry and Chris are former U.S. Navy officers.

Bret Perry is a graduate of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. The comments and questions above are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily reflect those of any organization.

The author would like to express his thanks to August Cole for his assistance with this interview.

Featured Image Credit: Battlefield 4 Concept Art Team Robert Sammelin, Mattan Häggström, Eric Persson, Henrik Sahlström, Sigurd Fernström, Electronic Arts.

21st Century Maritime Operations Under Cyber-Electromagnetic Opposition The Finale

The following article is part of our cross-posting partnership with Information Dissemination’s Jon Solomon.  It is republished here with the author’s permission.  You can read it in its original form here.

Read part one, part two, and part three of the series.

By Jon Solomon

Candidate Principle #6: Technical Degradation is Temporary, Psychological Effects can be Enduring

It must be appreciated that the greatest damage caused by an adversary’s successful cyber-electromagnetic attack may not be in how it degrades a system or network’s performance, opens the door to kinetic attacks against a force, or even tricks commanders into making operationally or tactically-sub-optimal decisions. All of these are generally temporary effects and can be recoverable with flexible plans, resiliency-embracing doctrine, and crafty tactics. Rather, as renowned naval analyst Norman Friedman has hypothesized, it could very well be the shattering of commanders’ and operators’ trust in their systems and networks that is most destructive. If personnel are not conditioned to anticipate their systems’ and networks’ disruption in combat, an attack’s lasting effect may be a morale-corroding fatalism. Likewise, if they are deceived just once by a manipulated situational picture, and even then not necessarily in a majorly harmful way, they may still hesitate to take needed actions in subsequent engagements out of fear of deception even when none is present. Either of these consequences could result in ceding the tactical if not operational initiative. In a short conflict, this might be catastrophic. Doctrinal collapse might also result, which would be especially debilitating if force structure is designed so tightly around a given doctrine that it severely limits options for creating or adapting operating concepts on the fly.[i]

Interestingly, similar effects might conceivably occur even when a system’s or network’s electronic protection and information assurance measures cause a cyber-electromagnetic attack to only achieve a relatively minor degree of immediate ‘damage.’ In fact, near-continuous cyber-electromagnetic harassment in the form of noise jamming, incessant yet readily parried cyber penetration attempts, situational picture-manipulation attacks that the target’s operators can quickly discover and reverse, intermittent system crashes or network connectivity interruptions that are quickly recovered from, or even severe disruptions of non-critical systems and network services may wear a force’s commanders and crews down mentally even if their critical systems and networks remain fully capable. A clever adversary might actually find this psychological degradation more exploitable (and more likely to be available for use at any given time) than technical degradation. Indeed, cyber-electromagnetic warfare’s psychological applications may well be where it finds its greatest utility.

Assessing the Implications

As the Chief of Naval Operations and others have asserted, the cyber and electromagnetic domains have become equally important to the physical domains in waging modern war.[ii] The cyber-electromagnetic fight will extend throughout all phases of major future conflicts, may begin well before open hostilities break out as an adversary attempts to ‘prepare’ the battle space, and accordingly may be particularly pivotal during a war’s opening phase. Indeed, high-impact anti-network operations with major maritime strategic implications date back as far as the opening moments of the First World War. Just as a belligerent might not be able to win a war with naval dominance alone but could easily lose without it, so it will be for cyber-electromagnetic dominance. It follows that a naval force’s ability to operate within a contested maritime zone will be highly questionable if it cannot effectively suppress or exploit the adversary’s force-level networks while simultaneously parrying the adversary’s own cyber-electromagnetic attacks. This will even extend to operations featuring stealth platforms, as such assets have long needed direct EW support to achieve maximal effectiveness.[iv] Should the U.S. Navy under-appreciate a potential adversary’s integration of cyber-electromagnetic warfare within combined arms doctrine, in a future conflict it would risk facing attrition rates on par with what it endured in the Solomon Islands from summer 1942 through summer 1943—something that its contemporary force structure simply could not endure.[v]

Assuming the candidate principles we have outlined are validated, they will influence future maritime warfare in at least five general ways. First, they will confirm leading tactical theorist Wayne Hughes’s hypothesis from over a decade ago that the next major maritime fight will be defined by the belligerents’ struggle for scouting superiority.[vi] This will represent a drastic change from the U.S. Navy’s post-Second World War combat experiences, in which the absence of threats to its sea control allowed it to focus on maximizing the efficiency and persistence of power projection ashore. Regardless of whether a tactical action pits two naval battleforces against each other, or one against a land-based force, the victor will likely be the side that is able to achieve high-confidence classification, identification, and targeting against his opponent’s forces first, thereby enabling effective attack.[vii] Cyber-electromagnetic discipline and capabilities will clearly be central to the success of the scouting/anti-scouting phases of any future operation.

Second, the above signifies that a force will need to extend its effective scouting and anti-scouting reach beyond that of its opponent. This is not achieved solely by covering a given area with more sensors than the opponent, or deploying scouts at greater ranges than the opponent. Rather, as suggested earlier, a sensor network’s effectiveness is equally a function of its architecture. This means the availability of difficult-to-intercept communications pathways and backup communications infrastructure will be just as important as raw coverage volume, lest key sensors be cut off from the network or the situational picture they feed be decisively manipulated. This also means the network must employ multiple sensor types. For surveillance, this translates into multi-phenomenology sensors positioned (or covering areas) as far as possible forward within the battle space, with some using sensing methodologies and platform characteristics that allow them to avoid (or at least delay) counter-detection. For reconnaissance, this requires sensors capable of penetrating the opponent’s force to support the confident confirmation of a given contact’s classification and identity. The U.S. Navy simply cannot afford to waste precious inventories of advanced weapons by falling for deception in a future battle. In this light, the Navy’s proposed Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) system could be a critical enabler for effectively employing the proposed Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), beyond visual range anti-air missiles, and similar network-enhanced standoff-range maritime weapons. It should not be overlooked that UCLASS, a scouting and attack asset that will be organic to the battleforce, can be designed to support expanded operations on interior lines of networking.

Third, if there is to be a reasonable chance that any degradation will be graceful, cyber-electromagnetic resilience must become a defining attribute of systems’ and networks’ designs. Strong electronic protection and information assurance features are certainly vital, with the latter applying just as much to ‘engineering plant’ systems as to the warfare systems they support. Nevertheless, as no system or network can ever be unexploitable, those central to a force’s tactical capabilities must contain additional design features that allow for quick restoration, graceful degradation, or capability expansion when subjected to withering cyber-electromagnetic attacks. Systems’ avoidance of network-dependency will also help greatly to this end.

Fourth, operations within opposed cyber-electromagnetic environments will demand C2 decentralization, as a higher echelon’s ability to assert direct, secure control over subordinate units under such circumstances will be dubious. Even if possible, this kind of close control will almost certainly be inadvisable if only for force concealment and counter-exploitation considerations. Instead, maritime forces will need to re-embrace ‘command-by-negation’ doctrine, or rather the broad empowerment of lower-level commanders to exercise initiative in accordance with their higher commander’s pre-disseminated intentions, if they are to fight effectively. Relatedly, aggressive experimentation will be needed to find the proper balance between operating on interior and exterior lines of networking when inside a contested zone—and will probably reveal that the bias should be towards the former.

Lastly, forces capable of operating under command-by-negation and in opposed cyber-electromagnetic environments are not developed overnight. Frequent and intensive training under realistic combat conditions will be needed if the requisite force-wide skills are to be developed.[viii] In particular, much as we have traditionally done to cultivate physical damage control readiness, commanders and crews on the deck plates must be regularly conditioned to expect, recognize, and fight-through cyber-electromagnetic attacks. A force’s cyber-electromagnetic resilience will depend in no small way upon its personnel’s technical, tactical, and psychological preparation for operating with critical systems and networks degraded if not compromised, and with situational pictures that have been manipulated. Likewise, a force’s ability to successfully deceive the adversary—not to mention successfully employ countermeasures against the adversary’s weapons—will depend upon the cyber-electromagnetic tactical skills the force’s personnel cultivate through routinized peacetime training. Emission control discipline, decoy placement relative to defended assets, precision evasive maneuvers, precision timing and sequencing of tactics, and the like require frequent practice if commanders and crews are to gain and then maintain just the minimum proficiencies needed to survive in modern maritime battle. The Navy’s next Strategy for Achieving Information Dominance needs to make it clear that cyber-electromagnetic competence must not be isolated to its Information Dominance Corps, and instead must be ingrained within the total force.

While cyber-electromagnetic risks hardly invalidate the use of advanced sensor and networking technologies, they do caution us not to take for granted that our systems and networks will be secure, functional, and reliable when needed. Our doctrine, contingency operational plans, and tactics must be structured around the assumption each of our warfare systems contain exploitable cyber-electromagnetic vulnerabilities that may prevent us from using them to their fullest—or at all—when most needed. We must not allow ourselves to build and field a force that can only fight effectively when its systems and networks are unhindered and uncompromised.

Jon Solomon is a Senior Systems and Technology Analyst at Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. in Alexandria, VA. He can be reached at jfsolo107@gmail.com. The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and are presented in his personal capacity on his own initiative. They do not reflect the official positions of Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. and to the author’s knowledge do not reflect the policies or positions of the U.S. Department of Defense, any U.S. armed service, or any other U.S. Government agency. These views have not been coordinated with, and are not offered in the interest of, Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. or any of its customers.

[i] Norman Friedman. “Trust but Verify.” Naval Institute Proceedings 134, No. 11 (November 2008), 90-91.

[ii] ADM Jonathan Greenert, USN. “Imminent Domain.” Naval Institute Proceedings 138, No. 12 (December 2012), 17.

[iii] LCDR James T. Westwood, USN. “Electronic Warfare and Signals Intelligence at the Outset of World War I.” U.S. National Security Agency, undated, accessed 1/31/14, http://www.nsa.gov/public_info/_files/cryptologic_spectrum/electronic_warfare.pdf

[iv] See 1. ADM Jonathan Greenert, USN. “Payloads Over Platforms: Charting a New Course.” Naval Institute Proceedings 138, No. 7 (July 2012), 18-19; 2. Gordon and Trainor, 213-215, 217; 3. Arend G. Westra. “Radar Versus Stealth: Passive Radar and the Future of U.S. Military Power.” Joint Forces Quarterly 55 (October 2009), 136-143.

[v] Thomas G. Mahnken. “China’s Anti-Access Strategy in Historical and Theoretical Perspective.” Journal of Strategic Studies 34, No. 3 (June 2011), 310.

[vi] CAPT Wayne Hughes, Jr, USN (Ret). Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, 2nd Ed. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2000), 201-202, 210-212.

[vii] Ibid, 40-44.

[viii] Solomon, “Maritime Deception and Concealment,” 104-106.